A cruise is one of the most convenient and exciting vacations that you can take. From the vast array of activities to the exciting and varied ports, there is something interesting happening day and night.
And, the more you cruise, the better it gets because you figure out things that make the experience even more enjoyable. On my last cruise, I asked cruise veterans - travelers who have sailed on many ships over the years - to tell me their cruise secrets. Here are their tips.
#1 Try More Than One Entree or Dessert
Many first time cruisers don't realize that they aren't limited to just one appetizer, entree or dessert during dinner. So, if you're having trouble deciding between the filet and the salmon —order both. Maybe you would rather have two appetizers instead of a main dish. Or, you can't decide which dessert you like the best. Go ahead and order two appetizers and two desserts. One of the many perks of cruising is the option to customize your meals exactly how you want. This type of freedom is exactly what Freestyle Cruising is all about.
#2 Don’t Head Straight to the Main Buffet on Embarkation Day
On boarding day, the main buffet can get crowded because that is where the majority of cruisers head when they board the ship. What many people don't know is that there are usually multiple eateries open on embarkation day. Check the daily program or ask a crew member what venues are open for lunch. You'll enjoy your first day so much better by dining in a relaxed atmosphere after boarding the ship.
#3 Pack Your Carry-On Wisely
When you show up at the cruise dock on boarding day, you'll give your large suitcases to the porter who will check them for you. You can carry on a small bag and personal items. You might not receive your checked bags until later in the evening after they are scanned for security. The crew has thousands of pieces of luggage to sort and deliver. To get the most out of your first day, pack your carry-on with everything that you'll need for the first day. Bring along any medications that you'll need. Pack a change of clothes, bathing suit and a casual outfit for dinner. If your ship has a ropes course, rock climbing, basketball or other activities, pack clothing for those sports, too.
#4 Book Excursions through the Cruise Line
Part of the fun of taking a cruise is exploring the ports that you visit. You can do this by booking shore excursions. Cruise lines offer organized shore excursions for an additional fee, or you can book your excursions through independent companies. If you are on a tight budget, you might be tempted to steer clear of the ship's excursions and book on your own. However, don't be fooled by the low prices. You may not get what you expect.
One of the cruise veterans that I spoke with, Martin, told me about his experience booking with an independent tour operator. He was promised a full guided tour to see some of "Jamaica's most impressive natural wonders." Martin said that the group did not see the places highlighted in the tour description. Also, the tour guide seemed tired and annoyed. Martin's experience highlights the downsides of booking independent excursions. The best way to maximize your time in port is to book with a tour operator that has been carefully vetted by the cruise line.
Do you have any tried and true tips for first-time cruisers? Share them in the comments!